Why some say racism should be declared a public health crisis in DC

The D.C. Council Committee on Health held a public roundtable on legislation that would declare racism a public health crisis in D.C.

Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray — the chairman of the committee and a former mayor — hosted the virtual discussion Thursday.

The aim is to push the D.C. Council to recognize legislation that would allow racism to be declared a public health crisis. Council member Kenyan McDuffie introduced the legislation.

Vicki Girard, director of Georgetown University’s Health Justice Alliance, supported the resolution, saying, “District families and children face barriers to good health every day.”

Girard said most of the obstacles that African American residents in D.C. face are connected to legal rights.

“When these issues go unrecognized, they “perpetuate poor health outcomes that disproportionately harm Black D.C. residents,” she said.

The Health Justice Alliance is a partnership between the law and medical centers focused on training future doctors, nurses and lawyers to work together to counter the impact of racism on health in D.C.

“Because sometimes people need a lawyer to be healthy,” Girard said.

A report released by Georgetown University in June found that when compared with whites, the number of Black residents who have died from diabetes, heart disease and prostate cancer is higher.

“Systemic racism is baked into the DNA of the systems and structures that govern our city, disproportionately burdening people of color resulting in poor health status, loss of productivity and premature death,” said Dr. Christopher King, a member of D.C.’s Commission on Health Equity and an associate professor at Georgetown University.

Addressing those issues would include “taking bold steps to apply a racial equity lens and data collection methodologies and resource allocations,” King said.

“What good is this resolution if we really don’t use it as a call to action?” Gray said, urging those in the discussion to turn their words into action.

“What is it that’s going to allow us not to have to come back to another table like this 70 years from now and have the same conversation?” Gray said.

The council plans to further discuss the resolution later this month.

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